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Friday, 27 March 2020

Review of the Fire HD 10 (9th generation): Significant improvements but with a downgraded screen

The latest iteration of the Fire HD 10 (9th generation) is not that different than the previous generation. In this post, I’ll review the Fire HD 10 considering its improvements and if it, in comparison to other vendors, still offers value. I will split the review into three sections: (1) The latest generation’s improvements; (2) The drawbacks of the newest generation; (3) If the newest generation still offers value in comparison to what other vendors provide.

The improvements 

The 9th generation’s significant improvements can be summarised in two areas: battery life and performance. I previously posted about the previous generation’s over-heating and overall sub-par battery life (Amazon over-estimated the battery life). The latest generation has resolved both issues – battery life is substantially improved, and you don’t get the over-heating. I would say the estimated battery-life of ‘up to 12 hours’ is accurate.

Another issue with the previous generation was the battery’s drainage in standby mode. Again, Amazon resolved the problem with the latest generation, and you get vastly improved battery standby time (even when Alexa is enabled).

Amazon advertises a 30% performance boost in comparison to the previous generation. In real-world usage, the tablet does feel significantly smoother than the previous generation. However, the memory remains the same (2GB) so the tablet struggles, for example, when loading multiple browser tabs. 

The replacement of the Micro-USB with USB-C also provides faster charging and file transfer speeds.

The drawback 

Since adopting the budget strategy, to keep the price low, Amazon has balanced upgrades with downgrades with each Fire generation. The 9th generation Fire tablet keeps to this strategy with its downgraded screen. On paper, the latest generation has the same 1920 X 1200 IPS screen. However, the quality of the screen has been downgraded with muted colours and a weaker contrast. I’ve also noticed the screen has a yellow tint. The screen is still good, and the downgrade is worth it considering the upgrades provided.

Still good value? 

At £150 the Fire HD 10, in my view, isn’t the budget value choice anymore. Capable Android tablets have recently become cheaper, and it is possible to find better tablets at a similar price. For example, Android tablets at a comparable or slightly higher price include the Samsung Tab A 10.5, HUAWEI MediaPad T5, HUAWEI MediaPad M5 lite and Lenovo P10.

However, Amazon regularly discounts the Fire HD 10 between £90 – £110. At that price, the Fire HD 10, in comparison to other offerings, is well worth the price.

Monday, 9 March 2020

Kobo's latest software update resolves longstanding problems

The latest Kobo software update – software version 4.20.14601 – has resolved some longstanding problems. Before the update, there was a long-term problem with smoothness and preciseness when highlighting text. The latest firmware has remedied the issue, and highlighting is significantly smoother - it is now comparable to Amazon’s Kindle software. There are further performance improvements that include more fluid typing using the virtual keyboard (before the update entering text was slow and resulted in lag). I’ve also noticed WiFi connectivity, and syncing has improved. For example, you no longer get the looped refresh after syncing Dropbox cloud storage.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Kobo Forma Vs. Android e-readers

Is it better to choose the Kobo Forma or opt for one of Boyue or Onyx’s 7.8-inch e-readers? As with most technology, the answer depends on the user’s needs. Below I’ll list factors in which the Forma might be the better option and then, in another post, state when a Boyue or Onyx Boox e-reader might be the better choice.

Choosing the Kobo Forma

Better screen 

I’ve tested the Onyx Boox Nova and Likebook Mars and found the screens to be inferior in comparison to the Kobo Forma. The Likebook Muses – a note-taking e-reader – is the only Boyue e-reader that I found had a comparable screen to the Kobo Forma. Overall, if you want an e-reader, then you’ll get the best display with the Kobo Forma.

Better battery life

The Kobo Forma doesn’t have the biggest battery capacity compared to other e-readers but still has a better battery life in comparison to Android e-readers. Kobo has developed an operating system that is optimised for the Forma’s hardware. In contrast, Android is not designed for e-readers, and this affects battery life. Boyue and Onyx have developed their launchers, reading apps and added some battery saving options but without drastically changing the underlying problem that comes with not developing an operating system bottom-up to optimise performance and battery life.

Better e-book reading software 

If you want to read e-books, then Forma’s software is the better option. The software is intuitive and user-friendly. Onyx’s e-readers also have good e-reading software, but it takes time to discover its different features. Boyue software, on the other hand, is buggy and restrictive in ways that compromise functionality. While Kobo’s PDF support is weak, it is relatively easy to install KOReader as an alternative.

Ghosting 

Kobo’s software is developed and optimised for the device’s hardware. Accordingly, there aren’t ghosting problems that you get when using third-party Android applications on E-Ink devices.

Light and durable 

The Kobo Forma’s ergonomic slim design and Mobius screen make it light, durable and easy to hold. The Forma, despite its larger screen, weighs only 197 grams. In comparison, the Onyx Nova Pro weighs 275 grams, and the Likebook Ares weighs 268 grams.

Library books 

Kobo integrates library borrowing into the software. Thus, it is possible to borrow an e-book in the Libby app and then sync it to the Forma. To access borrowed e-books, on an Android e-reader, it is necessary to install the Libby application. The experience of using the Libby application on an e-Ink device, as it is designed for smartphones and tablets, is poor. Further, Libby’s native e-reader is not very good.

After-sale support 

Kobo, while not at the level of Amazon, is an established global vendor with greater reach. Consequently, its after-sale support is better than Boyue and Onyx. After-sale support is an important factor to consider when purchasing an e-reader. From experience, e-readers commonly have front-light and battery drainage problems.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Recommended Fire HD 10 accessories

In this post, I’ll provide accessories recommendations for the recently updated Fire HD 10 (a future post will be dedicated to reviewing the tablet). Below is a list of useful accessories:
  • Amazon’s 7th generation cover: Amazon’s latest generation cases are over-priced, but there is no disputing the quality of materials used. However, the good news is that the discounted previous generation’s case fits the 9th generation Fire HD 10 (it seems Amazon skipped a generation when releasing the new model as the 9th!). The older case is near identical to the updated one – the difference in the newer one is a logo change on the cover and different matching colours (strangely Amazon sells a sage case, but there is no version of the 9th generation tablet in that colour). Further, the case’s stand is useful when using the tablet in show mode. 
  • Amazon Basics 11" Felt Laptop Sleeve: I’ve tried different Amazon Basics products and found the budget cost doesn’t mean a compromise in usability. The 11-inches Amazon Basics sleeve is a good option for those not wanting to use a bulky case. 
  • TiMOVO back case: The Amazon’s Fire HD 10 7th generation case has both back and front protection. The case’s only down-side is that it adds significant weight when holding the tablet. The TiMOVO back case is lighter and protects the tablet from small drops. As the back case does not have a front cover, it is a good idea to use the Amazon Basics sleeve for front protection. 
  • Kitsound BoomBar+: The Amazon Fire HD 10 doesn’t have good speakers. Accordingly, if you want to use the tablet in show mode, to listen to the radio or play music, it is a good idea to connect to an external Bluetooth speaker. One cost-effective option is the Kitsound’s BoomBar+ - the BoomBar+’s battery lasts long and is available at a reasonable price.

Monday, 25 November 2019

Syncing documents on an Android e-reader

One of the positives of Android e-readers is the flexibility that comes with the option to install third-party applications. One useful feature is the possibility to set-up two-way syncs between local and cloud storage. The two-way sync enables the opportunity to edit a PDF document locally to then to continue working on the same document on another device. Below are some options that make syncing possible:

Moon+ Reader Pro: Moon+ Reader Pro supports syncing via Dropbox and Google Drive. The application creates a directory in cloud storage that stores an e-book’s reading location and annotations.

FolderSync Pro: The application can be used to set up two-way syncs between local storage and a cloud service. It is essential, to access a document’s data across many devices, to store it within the synced folder to then access on another device with the same app (KOReader, for example, supports this feature). 

I noticed that e-readers running on Android 6.0 don’t allow the stored documents to write to an external SD Card. To get writing to a sync folder to work, it is necessary, to enable two-way syncing, to either use internal storage or format and convert an SD Card to internal storage.

Installing the Kindle application or Google Play Books: It is possible to install the Kindle application to sync an e-book via Amazon’s cloud service. In my view, this is not a recommended option as the Kindle application is not designed for E-Ink. It is also possible to install Google Play Books and sync e-books through Google; again, like the Kindle application, the poor user experience makes this option untenable.

Conclusion 

I found the best option for syncing e-books is to use Moon+ Reader Pro. Moon+ Reader Pro works relatively well on e-readers and opens e-books without delay. In comparison, KOReader can struggle with large e-books. The best option to sync PDF documents is to use KOReader – Koreader saves highlights in a PDF document and creates a directory to store the document’s meta-data.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Kobo Forma’s Dropbox integration

Kobo recently sent out an update that allowed users to access personal documents via Dropbox wirelessly. Dropbox support is an important feature, so I expect other Kobo e-readers to receive it too. In this post, I’ll review the feature and what it can and can’t do.

What it can do 

Dropbox integration means it is possible to upload documents on any device and access them on the Forma. Further, document categories created in Dropbox appear on the Forma. Accordingly, it is possible to keep a categorised library in the cloud and only download the required documents to save space. Once downloaded, the document is available on the device but can also be removed without affecting its availability in the cloud to re-download.

What it can’t do 

Once downloaded, an e-book’s annotations, bookmarks and reading location do not sync to Dropbox. Kindle personal documents, in comparison, sync downloaded documents to the Amazon cloud. 

Currently, Dropbox integration is only supported on the Forma, so it is not possible to sync to other devices or Kobo’s mobile applications. However, the syncing of documents is still necessary, as it provides a cloud back-up of annotations and bookmarks if the user is forced to do a factory re-set. Again, to compare, the syncing of personal documents to third-party cloud storage is supported by Moon+ Reader (Moon+ Reader also supports syncing to multiple third-party cloud platforms).

Friday, 11 October 2019

Kobo Forma review: A good premium e-reader with some flaws

Before the release of the Libra, the Forma was Kobo’s only a-symmetric e-reader. The Forma’s shape and feel are different than the Kindle Oasis. It also does not have a raised bump - the back is near flat but with a tapered wedge-side that feels like holding a book when folded back. It takes time to get used to the Forma but afterwards, I found the device’s ergonomics to be intuitive. In contrast, I never felt the same about the Oasis due to its unnatural bump. I will split the review into two sections: what I liked and disliked about the Forma. Overall, the Forma is a good e-reader that falls short.

What I like about the Forma 

Improved a-symmetric design 

As stated, Kobo has improved on the Oasis’s a-symmetric design with a tapered edge that feels natural when holding. The Forma’s plastic and robust Mobius substrate mean, unlike the Oasis, it doesn’t feel fragile in hand. Also, as there is no metallic casing, the Forma does not feel cold to hold in cold weather.

Mobius technology makes the Forma light. 

The Forma is an 8-inch e-reader but weighs only 197 grams due to its Mobius plastic substrate. The smaller seven-inch Kobo Libra, in comparison, is about the same weight at 192 grams and the 7-inch Oasis weighs 188 grams. The Forma’s larger size, however, makes it less convenient to hold for one-handed reading.

Pocket, OverDrive & Dropbox integration 

Pocket and OverDrive integration are two unique features. Pocket integration means it is possible to sync saved articles to read on the Forma. OverDrive allows the user to borrow library e-books and then have them synced on the Forma. Of course, the depth and quality of a book catalogue depend on the user’s local or regional library consortium.

Dropbox is a new feature, currently only supported on the Forma, that allows the user to upload documents wirelessly and then download these documents on the Forma. Further, documents are categorised by folders created in Dropbox.

Superior font rendering and reading settings 

In comparison to Amazon, Kobo’s software has sharper and clearer font rendering. Also, readers have greater reading settings options available.

Excellent screen 

As I posted before, larger Android e-readers released by less known vendors, e.g., Boyue and Onyx Boox, have lower-quality screens. The Forma does not match the power and versatility of Android e-readers, but its screen is superior (text appears clearer and less faded). The screen quality is one of the best I’ve seen on any e-reader. For many users - those that don’t need the benefits of an Android e-reader – the Forma is the better option.

What I disliked about the Forma 

Battery life 

I would estimate, for regular readers, the Forma’s 1200 mAh battery to last between four to five days. The lower battery capacity is not unique to the Forma – the problem similarly applies to the Kobo Libra and Kindle Oasis (possibly due to the slimmer profile of these devices). However, the Forma battery life is still better than most Android e-readers. I would say the Forma, in terms of battery life, is between the Kindle Paperwhite and Android e-readers.

Front light problems 

The Kobo Forma – considering it is a premium e-reader – doesn't have a good front light. The unit I own has uneven wedge-side lighting in which there is a bright light band followed by grey shadowing. Many Forma owners also report this issue with their e-readers.

Overall, the evenness of the Forma’s front light – again, considering the Forma is Kobo’s flagship e-reader – could be better. Amazon’s mid-range Kindle Paperwhite, in comparison, has a better front light (see picture below).

The Kindle Paperwhite (left), in comparison to the Forma (right), has a more even and warmer front light (click image to enlarge)

Nickel lacks key software features 


I’ve posted before on why Amazon’s software is superior to Kobo’s Nickel. Nevertheless, once again, I’ll highlight two key areas that Kobo needs to improve:
  1. Better support for personal documents: As stated above, the Forma recently received Dropbox support. The feature makes it possible to manage a library of personal documents wirelessly but doesn’t support the ability to sync this library between devices. Thus, there is no way to access let alone sync the page location and annotations of personal documents, for example, between the Forma and Kobo's Android application. 
  2. Poor PDF support: There is no way to interact with the text of a PDF and document rendering is slow. Of course, it is relatively easy to install Koreader for PDF documents. Nevertheless, readers shouldn't need to rely on third-party applications that are not optimised for Kobo’s hardware. 
Summary 

The Kobo Forma is a good e-reader that falls short from being an excellent one. The front light problems are Forma specific and require a hardware upgrade. On the other hand, the noted missing key software features apply to other Kobo e-readers and should’ve been remedied before. The recent Dropbox support is a definite positive but doesn’t go far enough in supporting wireless cloud management of personal documents.